Zeno (Tarasicodissa) Emperor of the East

Born in Isauria, the wild region between Pisidia and Cilicia in Asia Minor, he bore the name Tarasicodissa and served as chieftain of the Isaurians. Emperor LEO I recruited him and his warriors as a military counter balance to the Germans in the Eastern lands.

Tarasicodissa changed his name to Zeno and was granted command of the newly formed (mostly Isaurian) imperial guard, the Excubitors. A gifted and reliable officer, Zeno was given the hand of Leo’ s daughter, Aelia Ariadne, and the post of Magister Militum in Thrace (c. 470). His official task was to repel an invasion of the HUNS, but Leo was developing him as a political weapon against the German magister militum, ASPAR.

Internal feuding followed as Aspar tried to have Zeno killed, but he fled to Serdica. Leo, in his absence, was forced to elevate Aspar’s son PATRICIUS to the rank of Caesar, and Aspar moved to win the support of the Isaurian contingents. Zeno returned at once from Thrace, and in 471 Aspar and his son Ardaburius were murdered.

What part Zeno played in this is unclear, although he profited handsomely from the deaths. By 473, he held a consulship (469) and the office of magister militum in the East, where he suppressed the banditry of the Isaurian tribes. Then he became the magister militum in Constantinople, where he advised the emperor on all important matters.

In October 473, Leo’ s grandson (by Aelia Ariadne and Zeno) was elevated to Augustus, succeeding to the throne on February 3, 474. He lived only long enough to certify his father’ s already supreme authority, dying on November 17, 474.

Zeno was now sole master of the East, although considered a usurping outsider by the palace. Verina, Leo I’s widow, headed a conspiracy to remove him in favor of her lover, a secretary known as Patricius, and her accomplices included the Isaurian General Illus and Verina’s brother Basiliscus.

Once more Zeno, forewarned, retired to safety , becoming chief of the tribe again in Isauria. Basiliscus betrayed his sister and took power for himself. The people of Constantinople rose up and rejected him, and Zeno returned in August of 476, remaining as emperor until his death in 491.

Meanwhile in the West, Emperor Julius Nepos could not prevent the rise of Romulus Augustulus, son of Nepos’ s own magister, Orestes, and fled to Dalmatia to plead his case.

He found himself in competition with a delegation sent by the barbarian King Odoacer, who had deposed Romulus Augustulus and now sought recognition of his own control of Italy . Zeno chose a compromise, making Odoacer a patrician and reinstating Nepos.

Odoacer agreed, having no intention of keeping his word. He called himself King of Italy until the invasion of the Ostrogoths in 489, and the West passed into history. The other major act of Zeno’s reign was a peace treaty in 474 with King Geiseric and the Vandals that lasted half a century .

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